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Luke MacIsaac is dead, but not restfully so. In his watery afterlife he takes notice of an infant girl struggling to survive her birth. He feels a peculiar attachment to this girl and revisits her birth over and over again knowing she can survive if she is given a purpose. He wills her to be his mother in his next incarnation.
But is the cost too great for Astrid? And what is the connection between her and Luke's own past life that has him battling against memories of a younger brother--memories that lead him to regret saving her, even if it is too late.
I try to fool myself into believing I'm swimming during an Atlantic storm. Ah, but if only I didn't know I was dead. Dead men don't swim, waiting souls just wait. Still, the sensation of being buoyed persists, so I give in to it. The water is strangely warm, and I float on my back, letting the swells lift and let me go. A vibration moves through the water, through me, trembling like a heartbeat beneath water. Yes. A heartbeat. I hear it, and so I could be content pretending to swim, imagining tangles of rockweed beckon me from conjured rocks. Oh, yes, I could be happy, bounded in this watery nutshell, and count myself king of infinite space. Were it not that I have bad dreams.
The heartbeat comes faster. Thuds so hard, and strikes each moment so loudly that it could be mine. There's the sense that it's leaping into my throat, pounding to measure moments that are racing each other down, killing each other off. And it's this thought that makes me realize something is with me in the water. Waiting for me beneath the depths, in the dark places that light doesn't reach. The heart skips a beat, then holds onto the next one as though the thunk of it will go on for eternity. I peer hard into the shadows of the water. Come out, d*mn you. Come out. Show yourself.
A face looms up from below-- white, just the nose at first, then getting brighter, pinker, as it comes up. Sweet Jesus. If I could swallow, I would. If I could, I’d close my eyes. If I could scream. But it's okay. It's okay, man, get a grip. He's just a boy. Helmet trying to screw itself off his head. The mess of netting on the top is ragged, torn into shreds that wave in the water like seaweed. His eyes stare into mine, his gaze hard; his breath, when it comes, is hard.
He's trying to speak: Help. That's what he's saying: help me. My stomach tries to rebel when I realize he's been shot through the throat. Suffering. His fingers scrabble for the crater in his neck, trying to close over the hole so he can create enough vacuum to speak.
"It's okay, Bobby," I hear someone whisper. The voice is shrill but quiet just the same. "Just lie still."
There's the murmur of a group of men to my left. So the water may as well be gone, and the memory sharp enough to be living it again, on land. There’s no sound for a moment except my own ragged breathing. If I look up, I can see tree branches heavy with white blossoms. Apple blooms. Apple Orchard. But where are the birds, the butterflies? Then a cough answers the murmur. The abrupt sound of harsh laughter.
"Keep quiet." Comes the voice again, closer this time. Very close. I see a hand clamp down over Bobby's mouth. He struggles, trying to breathe, trying to get the hands off his mouth. Jesus, someone's killing him. Get off, I want to yell. Get the hell off, let him breathe, can't you see he's dying. "Keep still," Is what I hear, and I know it's from the owner of that hand. "Keep [expletive] still." The struggles go on forever and then...and then he is still.
What sound comes, comes as though it passes through water. My ears are clogged with liquid. My heart beats once more and is amplified like the sound is traveling through the salt water of a Canso tide.
When next I see Bobby's face, his mouth is white in ridges where the fingers were. A fly enters his nose, another flitters across his skin then takes to the air without a sound. No, God, no, not again. I squeeze my eyes shut. There’s the stink of sweat from men fallen when the hiking is done and the fighting has descended on them, but I know if I stay here long enough, the smell of decay will arrive, bringing with it the fetid odor of sulfur. But for now the smell of apples is all around me in the orchard. Real or imagined, doesn't matter. It's here.
Here. No longer a landscape of orchards and soldiers, but this damned deadened sea that begins to feel as if the tides are growing shorter. I should see a moon, a sun, birds. I don't. I see everything as through closed lids, with a hint of color and shape, but nothing solid. I hate this here. I hate knowing that this here commands me. Ah, but then the only way out is to find the physical. And there is the rub.
I don't want out anymore. Not if it means traveling to this place--this orchard--again, because that life that was me helped Bobby die. If there is something in that memory that I must see to find physicality--if that's my coin laid on the ferryman's palm, then I won't revisit it. I'll curl into a fetal position if I must, squeeze shut anything that remotely passes for eyes in this here, and I'll pretend there is nothing else. No God. No physical. No reason to continue.
Because if this is all there is—life after life meant only as some sort of evolutionary purpose, to bring us from mucus to monkey to man, then I'd rather have nothing.